Russia may be about to withdraw its forces from occupied Kherson

A damaged military vehicle after the withdrawal of Russian troops in Balaklia, Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine, on September 13, 2022.

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As Russian authorities continue the mass evacuation of civilians from the occupied city of Kherson in southern Ukraine, defense analysts believe the movement of people is paving the way for Moscow to withdraw its forces from much of the region.

Up to 60 thousand civilians are expected to be evacuated in the next few days from the western part of the Kherson region, on the right side of the Dnipro River, to the eastern bank of the river with residents told to travel to other Russia. Occupied areas.

Residents were told to leave Kherson after Russian officials warned them that Ukraine was preparing to launch a large-scale attack. Ukraine has decried the evictions, likening them to deportations, and asking residents not to comply.

Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-appointed acting governor of the region, claimed that the evacuation was necessary because Ukraine was “mobilizing forces for a large-scale offensive” and that Russia wanted to protect its citizens. Meanwhile, his deputy, Kirill Strimosov, said on Telegram Late on Tuesday “In the very near future, the battle of Kherson will begin.”

“We cannot rule out that the Kherson and the right bank (of the Dnipro River) of the Kherson region were bombed,” Strimosov said on Wednesday. On Thursday, he said, Russian forces repelled four attempts by Ukrainian forces “Breakthrough in the direction of Kherson”.

For its part, Ukraine opposed that introduction to the evacuations, saying that Russia was trying to intimidate civilians and was using the evacuation as a “Advertising”.

The Ministry of Defense of Ukraine refused to comment on CNBC about the situation in Kherson, indicating that the military situation in Ukraine is very sensitive.

This appears to be the case for both sides.

General Sergei Surovkin, the newly appointed commander of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine described Russia’s “special military operation” (as it calls its invasion) in Ukraine as “tense”, adding that “further actions and plans regarding Kherson will depend on the development of the tactical military situation, which is not the case.” easy”.

“We will act consciously and in a timely manner without ruling out difficult decisions,” he added, more ambiguously, but declined to elaborate.

Setting the scene for withdrawal

Given the unguarded comments from Russian officials, analysts believe that Russia is now setting the scene for an imminent withdrawal from part of the entire Kherson region.

“It is possible that the Russian authorities set information conditions to justify the planned Russian withdrawal and significant territorial losses in Kherson,” according to analysts at the Institute for the Study of War. Wed said.

She said that recent statements by Russian officials “are likely attempts to set media conditions for a full Russian retreat across the Dnipro River, which would cede the city of Kherson and other important lands in the Kherson Territory.” [province] Ukrainian forces advance.

Another Russian withdrawal would be a further humiliation for Moscow. Previous withdrawals of Russian forces from Kyiv, Snake Island or Kharkiv – or “tactical withdrawals” as Russia called it – have made even the most pro-Kremlin figures in Russia critical of the country’s military officials and its strategy.

Moscow’s final humiliation came when Ukraine learned in the summer that it would launch a counterattack in the south, prompting Russia to redeploy troops there, only to launch a massive surprise counterattack in the country’s northeast, allowing it to regain control. Vast areas of land.

The Russian Foreign Ministry building is seen behind a social billboard featuring the letters Z – a tactical insignia of Russian forces in Ukraine and the inscription “Victory forges in fire” in central Moscow on October 13, 2022.

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“It is clear that the Russian military leaders learned from the previous informational and operational failures during the last Ukrainian counter-offensive in Kharkiv. [in northeastern Ukraine] Hence, they are likely trying to mitigate the informational and practical consequences of failing to defend against another successful Ukrainian advance,” the analysts noted.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense agreed and said on Thursday in its latest intelligence update that it believed it was possible that Russia was considering withdrawing troops from part of Kherson.

The ministry noted that General Surovkin’s statements – in addition to his approval of plans to evacuate residents from the area – “likely indicate that the Russian authorities are seriously considering a significant withdrawal of their forces from the area west of the Dnipro River,” although it indicated this. Maneuvering can be difficult.

“The main challenge for any Russian withdrawal will be getting the troops and their equipment out across the 1,000-meter-wide river in good shape.”

“With all permanent bridges severely damaged, Russia is likely to rely heavily on a temporary barge bridge that it has completed near Kherson in recent days, and floating military ferry units, which continue to operate at several locations,” the ministry said.

False science attack

Tensions centered in Kherson on Thursday with the Russian Defense Ministry claiming that Ukraine’s armed forces “attempted to penetrate the defense of Russian forces” by “clinging to the defense” of Russian units near Sukhanov in the Kherson region. She insisted that the Russian forces “completely” restored the front line of defense in the entire direction.

There are now fears that Russia has plans to cover a withdrawal with a false attack on the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Station, upriver from Kherson, with the ISW think tank noting that “the Russian military may believe that breaching the dam could cover their withdrawal from the right bank of the Dnipro River and prevent or Delaying the Ukrainian advance across the river.

Russia claimed to have “information”, but did not provide any evidence, that Kyiv intended to strike the dam at Kakhovka HPP while Ukraine said that if Russian forces blew up the power station, it would lead to disaster with a large number of casualties.

“It is possible that the Russian authorities intended these warnings about an alleged Ukrainian raid on Kakhovka HPP to set information terms for Russian forces to destroy the dam and blame Ukraine for the subsequent damage and loss of life, all while using the resulting floods to cover their withdrawal. Further south to Kherson Oblast.”

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